The Indian Myth of Kamadeva, the Hindu God of Love

Many modern Western symbols of love date back to the early Greeks and Romans. Eros was the Greek god of love, while Cupid was the Roman god of love and desire.

The image of a chubby Cupid aiming love arrows at unwary people’s hearts appears to be a typical Western symbol of love. Americans and Western Europeans can widely see him on greeting cards and chocolate boxes on Valentine’s Day.

What about Eastern cultures, such as Hinduism? Does Cupid trick them too? Or do they have their own “Cupid”? People from all over the world, especially Indo-European cultures, have sacred stories that are a lot like Hindu stories about gods.

Who Is Kamadeva, the Hindu God of Love?

In Indic traditions, Kamadeva represents the Hindu equivalent of Cupid and Eros. Kamadeva is known as the Indian or Vedic Cupid. He is the Hindu god of love, desire, and infatuation.

Jeffery D. Long, Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, USA, explored the old Indian scriptures about Kamadeva.

Kamadeva is the god of desire and love. The word Kama comes from Sanskrit, meaning “sensual desire.“ He is accompanied by his wife, Rati, a goddess of love and sexual passion.

Different from Cupid, however, Kamadeva is depicted not as a plumpy cherub but rather as a handsome young man who rides on a majestic green parrot named Suka. He is riding a parrot’s back with a sugarcane bow, a honeybee bowstring, and flower arrow points. Kamadeva, the Hindu Cupid, also shoots his love darts into people’s hearts.

This is how the Rigveda, the most ancient of Hindu scriptures dating back at least 3,000 years, describes Kamadeva.

Each of these elements of his description represents the inherent sweetness of love. Additionally, they elicit the spirit of the spring season, when new life arises in the world. Suka, the parrot of Kamadeva, symbolizes both the spring season and the notion of love, as parrots frequently live in pairs.

The Tensions of Hindu Love

The stories of love in Hindu culture illustrate the tension between the most deeply held Hindu values. Love is a highly valued belief, especially in the context of families.

The highest ideal of life, however, is liberation from the cycle of rebirth. To reach this goal, spiritual people must give up worldly attachments, including love relationships. They should seek meditative solitude instead.

Shiva, a highly esteemed Hindu deity, embodies this tension by combining the qualities of a devoted yogi with a loving husband and father.

What Happens When Kamadeva Intervenes Life with His Love Arrows?

One time, during a period of intense meditation, Kamadeva was going to pierce his heart with an arrow. Then Shiva, angered by the interruption of his meditation, blasted the unfortunate god of love with a powerful beam of energy emanating from his renowned third eye.

Actually, Kamadeva’s intention was good. It was not meant to whimsically pierce Lord Shiva’s heart. According to the Indian story, a dangerous demon, known as Taraka, endangered the world. None of the gods could defeat this terrifying demon.

Only Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva, and his wife, the Mother Goddess Parvati, could defeat this demon, according to a prophecy. However, Kartikeya had not yet been conceived. Shiva was the patron deity and embodiment of yoga, so he unlikely could do this anytime soon given his dedication to meditation. So, the Hindu gods sent Kamadeva to do just that: to make Shiva fall in love with Parvati and wake him up from his meditation so he could have the child who would save the world.

Shiva demonstrates mercy despite his proneness to anger. Heartbroken over the death of her beloved, Rati begged Shiva to bring Kamadeva back to life, which he did. Following this, Shiva and Parvati had a son named Kartikeya, who later killed the demon.

What Was the Message of This Story?

It says that erotic love is important in all religions, even ones that value asceticism and meditation as ways to reach the ultimate goal of freeing people from the cycle of rebirth and its pain. Not only is Kamadeva a fun thing to look at, but it also does good things in the world.

Love in the Aryan Caste Culture

In scholarly literature, the term “Aryan culture” has frequently referred to the “Indo-European” cultures of the past associated with ancient Indo-Iranian languages. These prehistoric cultures existed many centuries ago. The Indo-Aryan migration occurred approximately between 2000 and 1500 BCE. The early Aryans were nomad warriors who colonized northern India around 1500 BCE. These ancient people with fair skin settled in Iran and northern India in those times. Initially, the Aryans were hunter-gatherers. As they migrated to India, they learned agriculture and constructed settlements and cities, thereby initiating the Aryan civilization. Literature, religion, and social structure have had a significant impact on Indian culture.

Through the centuries, the Aryan cultures have experienced a very long history of cultural evolution. This evolution has been reflected in social and personal relationships between people. At various epochs of Aryan culture in India, gender relations and the position of women differed greatly, and the attitudes towards love varied substantially.

The Transition of Aryan Culture to Brahminism

The Aryan culture during the period of Indo-Aryan migration in the 2000s–1500s BCE was very conducive to free interpersonal relationships and love in the modern sense. Prior to the introduction of Brahminism, women were held in high regard, granted various privileges, and permitted to engage in free social relations with men. For many Aryans, monogamy was the accepted form of marriage.

However, during the Late Vedic Period (c. 1100-500 BCE), Brahmanism developed as a belief system, asserting that Brahman is the supreme being. Since then, Brahmanism has continued to have a significant impact on Hinduism. The various tenets of Brahmanism influenced the development of Hinduism in India. Brahmanism encouraged inequality and supported the brutalization of the lower classes. They emphasized the elite position of Brahmins. They introduced and maintained the caste system in Indian society.

The Aryan Caste Culture

In Ancient India, the caste system was a very important aspect of the Aryan culture of that period. According to Brahmanism, it was believed that people were born into their caste for the rest of their lives. Their caste determined the work they did, the man or woman they could marry, and the people they could eat with.

 The importance of cleanliness and purity was also emphasized. Those deemed the most impure due to their work as butchers, gravediggers, and trash collectors lived outside the caste structure. They were dubbed “untouchables” because even their presence jeopardized the ritual purity of others. They had no rights and were unable to advance or marry outside of their caste.

According to Schweiger Lerchenfeld (1846–1910), the Austrian scholar familiar with world history, instead of the monogamy of previous centuries, the Brahmins introduced polygamy. They set an example when a person sometimes married an entire family, “old and young, daughters, aunts, sisters, and cousins.” One Brahmin was known to have had 120 wives. In such cultural conditions, a man or a woman subordinated family feelings to caste considerations.

The Strange Cultural Beliefs of Brahmanism on Conjugal Love

The Brahmins also introduced the custom of “Suttee”, the burning alive of widows on the funeral pyre of the deceased husband. It was performed through a sophisticated interpretation of ancient laws. This practice was sometimes viewed as the apogee of conjugal love. However, actually it was merely what modern psychology calls an “epidemic delusion.” This cultural belief represented the poor women who were willing to sacrifice themselves and die in this manner particularly meritorious and voluptuous. On the other hand, those who refused to be immolated were treated as social outcasts. They were not permitted to marry again or adorn themselves in any way.

The Poor Status of Women in the Laws of Manu

The way the laws of Manu, or the Manusmṛiti, also known as the Mānava-Dharmaśāstra describe the roles of women in society demonstrates how badly they were thought of in Indian society of that cultural period. Here are some of the sayings that this book presents:

“A woman is the cause of dishonor, the cause of hatred, and the cause of a boring life. Because of this, women should be avoided. “

“A girl, a young woman, or a wife must never do anything on her own, not even in her own home.”

“A woman should serve her husband her whole life and stay true to him even after she dies. Even if he lies to her, loves someone else, or has no good qualities, a good wife should still respect him as if he were a god, and she shouldn’t do anything to make him unhappy, either in life or after she dies. “

According to the text, the women’s lives got so bad that Indian mothers “often drowned their female children in the sacred streams of India” to protect them from what life had in store for them.

(cited by H. Finck, 1887/2019, p. 77).

As Charles LeTourneau, the 19th century sociologist and ethnographer of Indian culture, commented,

“Hindu laws and manners have been based on the sacred precepts right up to the present day.”

It wasn’t proper for a woman to be able to read or dance. The Bayadere, an Indian courtesan, was to fulfill these futile social duties.

(cited by H. Finck, 1887/2019, p. 77).

Did Love Exist in Ancient Aryan Culture?

The cultural connotations of the word “Aryan” can be different.

Many of us might recall the popular modern name “Aryan.”

Some may think of the word in association with the notion of white racial superiority, which is incorrect.

However, few people are aware that Aryan culture was among the ancient cultures of the past centuries. The references to the cultures associated with Indo-European languages are the most frequent and adequate in this context. Here we talk about true ancient Aryan culture.

What Is Aryan Culture?

“Aryan” is the name originally given to a people who spoke an archaic Indo-European language.

The linguistic origin of the word was in the Sanskrit term “arya” (meaning “noble” or “distinguished”). The word had a social rather than an ethnic meaning. The term “Aryan” was used interchangeably with “Indo-European” and frequently in the meaning of referring to the Indo-Iranian languages.

The Aryan people presumably settled in ancient Iran and the northern Indian subcontinent during prehistoric times. Around 1500 BCE, roughly 500 years after the collapse of the Indus River Valley civilization, Aryan nomad warriors began colonizing northern India. The likely fair-skinned Aryans were the invaders and conquerors of ancient India from the northern territories.

Originally, the Aryans were hunters and herders. When they migrated to the Indian subcontinent, they learned agriculture and began constructing settlements and cities, marking the beginning of Aryan civilization in India. Their literature, religion, and social organization subsequently shaped the development of Indian culture.

What Was the Meaning of Love in Aryan Culture? 

Modern love has bloomed most beautifully among the Aryan or “Indo-Germanic” races in European and American cultures. Therefore, it is intriguing to learn about its prevalence among the Asiatic peoples. They appear to be the closest modern representatives of our distant Aryan ancestors.

Somewhere between 1200 and 1500 years ago, there was a time in Indian history when culture entertained the idea of romantic love.

The Seven Hundred Maxims of Hala is a collection of poetic utterances written by various authors. The texts date back to no further than the 3rd century of our era. It included as many as 16 authors of the female persuasion. They are written in Prakrit, which is a language that is closely related to Sanscrit, and the structure of the words suggests that they were meant to be sung.

This evidence is contained in the Seven Hundred Maxims of Hâla, a collection of poetic utterances dating back not further than the third century of our era and comprising productions by various authors, including as many as sixteen of the female persuasion. They are written in Prâkrit, a sister-language of Sanscrit. Their form indicates that they were intended to be sung. A German indologist, Albrecht Weber (1825–1901), who studied the history of India, commented on this collection in the Deutsche Rundschau, a literary and political periodical of the 19th century:

 “At the very beginning of our acquaintance with Sanscrit literature, towards the end of the last century, it was noticed, and was claimed forthwith as an eloquent proof of antique relationship, that Indian poetry, especially of the amatory kind, is in character remarkably allied to our own modern poetry. The sentimental qualities of modern verse, in one word, were traced in Indian poetry in a much higher degree than they had been found in Greek and Roman literature; and this discovery awakened at once, notably in Germany, a sympathetic interest in a country whose poets spoke a language so well known to our hearts, as though they had been born among ourselves.”

(cited by Henry Finck (1887/2019, p. 74).

Emoji Love and Other Emotions in the Virtual World

In modern culture, it seems easy to guess what “heart” and especially “red heart” mean. Guess what? Love! So, the corresponding symbols are common in modern virtual world. The emoji ❤️ adopted the same meaning social media messages. The red heart emoji is a classic image to express love and romance. The read heart ❤️ and two hearts 💕 are among the popular heart emoji used on Twitter (What Every Heart Emoji Really Means by Keith Broni, Jeremy Burge, Feb 11, 2021).

What is the best emoji for love? It depends on personal preferences. Nevertheless, some believe that among the most popular are

  •  ❤️: Red Heart. …
  • 😻: Smiling Cat with Heart Eyes. …
  • 😍: Smiling Face with Heart Eyes. …
  • 😘: Face Blowing a Kiss. …
  • 💕: Two Hearts. …

What Emoji Are Used for Love Across Cultures?

In a survey for World Emoji Day, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Duolingo and Slack, researchers showed respondents various emoji and asked what meaning they were most likely to associate with them. The survey also investigated how emoji usage and meaning differ across countries. It was discovered that emoji can mean different things in different cultures around the world.

Chris Melore presented an interesting review of this international survey.

For example, let us look at how the “face throwing a kiss” (😘) is used. For “romantic love” or “platonic love”?

It was found that this emoji is popular among U.S. Americans, Indians, and Japanese people in different ways.

Indians prefer to use it more frequently for romantic love than for platonic love (52% vs. 27%).

Americans are also slightly more likely to use it as a sign of romantic love than of platonic love (34% vs. 26%).

However, Japanese preferences are the opposite. They tend to use the kissy face less frequently for romantic love than for platonic love (16% vs. 30%).

It is worthy of note that the “slightly smiling face” (🙂) frequently expresses “general positivity” (39%) and “feeling happy” (38%). These meanings are among the top uses for this emoji globally. However, this emoji may express less positive emotions than one may think.

Emoji are also frequently used to express sentiments of care and support. It was especially noticeable during the recent COVID-19 pandemic times. People often use the heart (❤️) and similar emoji to show love and support. Globally, differences between age groups exist in this regard. Across many cultures, younger generations mention that the emoji they send to someone are often misunderstood by the recipients. Young people of Gen Z mentioned this more frequently, at 31% among all respondents, than millennials, at 24% of respondents.

Erotic Love in Cultures Around the World

Many laypeople and academics are interested in sexual and erotic themes. The topics of this kind are related to how people experience and express love.

As I said in another article, love and sex are intimately interconnected and sometimes difficult to distinguish. For their better understanding, several questions should be answered. Among those are: What is sex? What is love? What is sexual love? What is erotic love? I recently explained what erotic love is. Here I talk about erotic love across human cultures.

Erotic Art and Erotic Love

People had sex from the early origins of human evolution. It was natural and biologically embedded in their species. However, erotic love appeared on the scene with the onset of culture.

The cultural ideas of erotic art and literature have been depicted in painting, sculpture, music, songs, dances, theater, and fashion design. These artistic mediums conveyed the aesthetic values of body shape and movement, the structure and expressiveness of the face, and the melody and rhythm of music and singing.

What is “erotic” in erotic love?

In the same way that erotic art does, erotic love characterizes the physical attractiveness of a person and the setting in which they are situated. A person who is feeling erotic love looks at the body with admiration. He or she perceives the beautiful body as “nude” rather than “naked.”

Look at the dictionaries, and you’ll see the meaningful differences between the two. The impression of a beloved’s nude form is about the presence of his or her attractive physique, but the impression of a naked figure is about the absence of clothes. Both can have various connotations hidden beneath the surface.

When you are in a museum of sculpture and painting, you look at the nude figures and admire their beauty. Looking at a nude figure in the museum, you don’t experience sexual arousal every single time, don’t you? It is because you experience erotic love, not a sexual one. You experience erotic feelings, but usually non-sexual ones. Both together are not compatible in that context.

In the same way, when you are alone with your beloved being without clothes in bed, looking at her or him, you see them nude and experience erotic feelings. Yet, you don’t feel sexual arousal every single time you look at them. You feel erotic rather than sexual love.

At another time, however, you can experience both erotic and sexual love for them, perceiving them both naked and nude. One of these experiences can prevail over another or not. 

Two Examples of How Erotic Love Was Represented in European and Eastern Cultures of the Past

In the course of the history of art across different cultures, a wide variety of cultural models of erotic art and erotic love have been portrayed. Both men and women were depicted as the objects of erotic love in ancient Greek and Roman art, as well as in Indian art, yet in different cultural contexts and settings. They can still be seen today in the form of paintings and sculptures in the museums of the world.

European Examples of Erotic Art

The depiction of nude women and men in art during the Renaissance period was fashionable and generally conveyed positive associations. Erotic images of women and men can be found in the works of many poets and painters. In nude figures, artists personified their ideals of beauty, graciousness, soul, and love. During the Renaissance, great artists like Giorgione, Leonardo, Titian, Michelangelo, and Veronese created works that praised erotic beauty.

For instance, the “Venus of Urbino” painting depicted “a humanly beautiful nude woman whose pose is borrowed from the idealized beauty of Gorgione’s “Sleeping Venus.” This love allegory represents a European cultural model of love of that time, depicting the victory of love over temptation and time (Grabski, 1999, p.9).

Eastern Examples of Erotic Art

The Sanskrit aesthetic philosophy and art of Indian culture elevated the feeling of “shringara,” one of the nine rasas. “Shringara” means “erotic love” as an attraction to beauty. This feeling is related to the feeling of “rati,” meaning passionate love and sexual pleasure. Nevertheless, these two feelings are still emotionally different.

The love lyrics in Sanskrit and ancient Indian paintings and sculptures beautifully portrayed the stunning pictures of shringara, an Indian culture of “erotic love.” The concept was described as being evidently different from “kama” as presented in ancient Indian medical literature. The diverse feelings of kama were about desires and sensual pleasures of the body (Orsini 2006, p. 10). The Kamasutra, an old Sanskrit text dated to 400 BCE–200 CE, presented a lot of ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom about sexuality, erotic pleasure, and emotional pleasure. This literary text identified and vividly described four types of sexual experiences. Those distinctively referred to sex, sexual love, erotic love, or associated feelings.

Four types of sex and sexual love in “Kamasutra”

Sex and love are among the topics of great interest for many, yet in different ways. Laypeople and academics believe that sexuality and love are inextricably linked to one another. Numerous authors in the scholarly literature frequently consider these two concepts together.

Researchers in many scientific areas have different ways of conceptualizing the connections between sexuality and love. Some academics believe that “love is really sex,” while others believe that “sex is really love.” Still others believe that these two experiences are distinct yet connected. Opinions about how they are connected also vary.

Although their forms and expressions are behaviorally similar, sex and sexual love have distinct psychological roles. Therefore, it is worthwhile to distinguish them (Karandashev, 2022a). To put it briefly, these two concepts have the following different meanings:

Sexual desire is easily aroused, fleeting, and short-lived. Any attractive individual is capable of satisfying sexual desire. Sexual love is a collection of more intimate and complicated feelings related to a certain other person. Only a specific individual can fulfill a person’s sexual urge.

What is “Kamasutra”?

Ancient cultures of the far past were quite elaborate in this regard. The Kamasutra is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text that comprehensively describes what sexuality, erotic, and emotional pleasure are.It is widely known as a sexual manual for men and women. People could learn from the book about different ways to enjoy sex in different positions and with different sexual techniques.

The ancient Indian Hindu Sanskrit text of the Kama Sutra, dated to 400 BCE–200 CE, was attributed to the Indian philosopher Vatsyayana. The book was largely not about sex positions or sexual techniques. Instead, it was written first of all as a guide to the art of living well, the nature of love, finding a right life partner, keeping your love life going, and other things that have to do with the pleasure-seeking parts of human life.

How many types of sex and sexual love can we distinguish?

In the book of Kamasutra, Vatsyayana writes about sexuality, sexual and erotic love, and emotional fulfillment in their intricate relations. The Sanskrit word “kama” conveys several connotations, variously meaning “desire, pleasure, longing, love, and sex.” It is also the name of the god of erotic love and desire.

The text of Kamasutra clearly distinguished four types of sex and sexual love:

  • “First was a simple love of intercourse that resembles a habit or drug.
  • Second was like a separate addiction to specific aspects of sex such as kissing, embracing, or oral intercourse.
  • Third was the love consisting of mutual attraction between two people, instinctive, spontaneous, and possessive.
  • Fourth was the kind of one-sided love that often sprang from the lover’s admiration for the beauty of the beloved.” (Tannahill 1992, p. 203).

According to the text, satisfaction of the first and second types of sex depends just on physical proficiency in intercourse and adherence to the rules and techniques. These are mostly sexual interactions between lovers. The third and fourth types of sexual experience represent true sexual love. These kinds of sexual love are above and beyond the rules. Lovers should just follow their sensual intuition of love and natural feelings of sexual harmony (Karandashev, 2017, p. 71).